Chinatown, My Chinatown
“Been a murder in Chinatown, Tom,” Kirby Dorset, a bleeding gum toady who thought he was dying of consumption or some plague from Exodus, said to me too early in the morning. When he smiled, which was a lot like looking at the business end of a whore during her unclean days, it made an honest man want to puke. But I had to put up with that bleeding mouth of his because he spoke for the Christian men on the hill who wanted to keep the Chinese in their place and away from white civilization.
My stomach was cramping up from last night’s patrol of the dope dens and a dead Chinaman was the last thing I was worried about. “Who gives a damn,” I said.
“I’m afraid it’s not a chink this time. A white man’s dead.”
That’s all I needed. White men going to Chinatown wasn’t anything new: chasing the dragon or riding the Daughters of Joy. Only too many drunks messing with Chinese means business would slow down, and the money from the dope dens, whore cribs, and Pan Fan tables wouldn’t flow up the hill to the white Christian men. Most of the money would go to Corey Augustine, a rich lawyer who helped establish the more respectable Chinese known as the “Six Companies.” He had backed my appointment to be constable for Chinatown, so my job is to keep the blood to a minimum while playing fast and loose with the law.
Kirby started to cough so loud and violently I thought he was going to hack up a
lung. “I apologize for that display of my affliction,” he said. He took out a stained handkerchief and wiped his mouth.
“Well, before you die I hope you learn to close the god damn door.”
“Sorry, Tom. I guess my illness has effected my proper upbringing.”
I put on my boots, strapped on my gun belt, and grabbed a double barrel shotgun.Lately my aim has been as steady as a floating shithouse. It’s probably the dope, but I’m not about to give it up. Besides, the sight of two barrels tends to make my point, dope or no dope.
“Take your sickness back up the hill,” I told Kirby. “I’ll deal with the dead man.”
Another gray and wet San Francisco summer day greeted me as I tried to walk off last night’s patrol. Portsmouth Square was filled with whatever dregs of the world Poseidon blew over when he bent his fish ass and farted. Each praying he would strike it rich or die trying. Cemeteries were full of those who tried. Entering Chinatown was like entering a world thrown together with curses,prayers, dreams, and the occasional miracle by Christ himself. The buildings were made from rotting timber salvaged from abandoned ships that clogged the bay, making Chinatown look about as stable and reliable as a mule’s disposition. Hundreds of Chinese buzzed about, shouting their yellow gibberish to one another, selling one another out as quickly as they would cut a throat. This morning their usual cacophony was muted.
Maybe one of their heathen celebrations was coming up. Or maybe they knew something I didn’t. Being a white man and the law I didn’t have to worry about the Chinese all that much. I don’t know if it’s the badge, the guns, or me that they respect and fear. Not that I care, as long as I get my point across. I didn’t have to go far before I had to make that point. Just off of Dupont Street four greasy miners had two men on the ground and were trying to tie their queues
together. It was a cruel game that I didn’t much care for.
“Let the chinks go,” I said.
“Go to hell, Tom,” one of the miners said. “These damn yellow monkeys killed a white man.”
His compatriot, a big man with a mouth full of bad teeth, stared me down. “What the hell you going to do about it, you god damn dope head chink lover? Why don’t you go…”
I didn’t let him finish. I took the stock of the shotgun and smashed it into his face.The other three backed off.
“Get the fuck out of my Chinatown,” I said with both barrels pointing at the miners. “If you can’t find your way out, I’ll draw you a map.”
The miners picked up their friend and said some impolite things before they left.
A crowd started to gather and I told the two Chinamen to go. In spite of it all I’m pretty square with them. Only a few chinks wanted me dead, but I’m the law in Chinatown and I make sure they remember.
In Bartlett Alley lay the body of the dead white man. No gunshots or knife wounds. No cracked skull or cut throat that would have told the most ignorant of badge- wearing son of a bitch that the recently deceased had been a victim of foul play. So what made it a murder? While I was cursing Kirby for wasting my morning, I recognized the body. His name was Johnny Ruben, a dope fiend who’d frequent some of the dens I patrolled. I didn’t know Johnny personally, but we shared the same habit and the same shame.
I called over a couple of Chinese and gave them two dollars to haul the body over to the undertaker. At least Johnny would get a Christian burial. It’s better than being chopped up and fed to the crabs. When they picked up the body, Johnny’s dirty shirt tore off. That’s when I noticed the marks on his arms. Johnny wasn’t one for needles; he took his dope from the pipe like I did. They were snakebites and a lot of them, as if he fell into a pit of vipers. One of the Chinamen pointed at the body while looking at me. He tried to say something in his chink tongue, but I was too strung out to understand. I pointed at Johnny’s corpse. “Take now. Chop-chop!”
The Chinaman nodded his head and hauled the body away. I stood there for a while trying to figure out what kind of enemies a down-and-out dope fiend like Johnny could have that they would go through all the trouble of killing him with snakes. I had a feeling someone was making a move on Chinatown and I was stuck in the middle of it. I
just hoped I don’t end up on the wrong side.
I decided to stop by the Joyful Gate Blossom and rattle some cages. Killing their high priced Hong Kong lawyer a few years ago up in Poppy Gulch didn’t put me on their Chinese New Year list, but there wasn’t a hell of a whole lot they could do about it. Sometimes you got to rub a dog’s face in shit—just never turn your back on him.
The junk shop was next to Sullivan Alley, where the Joyful Gate ran about twenty brothels. Two white men walked out of the front door just as I was going in. One of them had a hard face with a scar running down the left check. He gave me a sideways look as he passed me. I was tempted to throw him against the wall and have him arrested for insulting a peace officer. But he was white, and in Chinatown, sometimes that’s all you need. So I let him go.
I walked into the shop. A well-dressed Chinaman walked out from the back smelling like cat piss. It was Fong Wong, the tong’s top Manchu. Rumor had it that the Hong Kong lawyer was his cousin and that he was honor bound to kill me. I’d like to see the son of a bitch try.
“Good morning, constable Banes,” Fong said. “How can I help you?”
“White man is dead in my Chinatown, and your tong has it’s stank all over it.”
“How did this man die?”
“Why don’t you tell me, Fong. You got a pit full of vipers in that back room of yours?”
Fong didn’t say anything. Just kept that I-know-a-secret smirk on his fat chink face. “Constable, I am afraid you are mistaken.”
“What if I walk in that back room of yours and find something I don’t like and shut you down? I’m sure you and your tong would hate to have that happen.” I slammed the shotgun on the table. “This is my Chinatown. If someone craps lighting to my left there’s no second guessing where the thunder is going to come from.”
Fong didn’t blink. I pushed him and he didn’t budge. “Have a nice day, constable.”
That ended the conversation. It went on longer than I would have liked.
Something about Fong’s attitude bothered me. He was cockier than usual. Maybe Fong was going to supply coolies for Leland Stanford, or some other railroad baron cocksucker. A sudden fear hit me. What if one of the white Christian men on top of the hill was backing Fong’s play? But if that were to happen, Augustine would tell me. Unless they where making a play on Augustine.
I walked out of the junkshop and into the streets. There seemed to be more Chinese than usual, and they moved about with a slow deliberateness. The loud squawking of the hucksters was replaced by a muted murmur.
So far the only thing I’d accomplished was to get a headache, so I wandered over to the Jade Lady, a competitor of the Joyful Gate Blossom. I was easier on their white cliental and didn’t hassle the operators. It was good for business, and I got free dope and snatch out of the deal.
“Constable Banes,” Sally Sing said. Her little face hovering above the counter as if she was a headless ghost. I didn’t know if that was her real name. It was probably fake, much like the grand façade on the front of the brothel. “Very early to be making rounds.”
Something about the way she said it bothered me. Sally’s face was twisted up as ifshe was weaned on a pickle. Her body was tense and her eyes darted around.
“Problem, Sally?” I asked.
Sally kept her tight smile. “No, constable, no problems at all.”
I shook my head and headed down to the dope den. Sally wanted to tell me something, but couldn’t. I could walk Chinatown for a hundred years and never understand the Celestial mindset. They had a wall of secrets and silence that was hard to break down. When they wanted want help, they could never come out and ask. Always some Celestial mumbo jumbo I was supposed to garner wisdom from whenever I squatted to take a shit.
Right now the only thing I wanted to garner was a hit from the opium pipe and a fresh whore. I walked down to the dim lamp-lit basement to where a silk green curtain separated the regular riff raff from the more high-end dope fiends. I like to be alone, with the exception of a Daughter of Joy to lit my pipe and keep my pecker company. It’s a shame that they get used up so quickly and then chopped up for the crabs. The little bastards plucking out eyes and burrowing into the guts of those that this city ate up and spat out into the bay. It was something I didn’t want to think about. I didn’t want to think about anything.
I slipped off my gun belt, took off my shirt and hat, but kept my pants and boots on. I wasn’t planning on staying long, just a quick fix to get the day going. I promised myself I wouldn’t hit the den tonight. I didn’t like the notion that those miners called me a chink lover. Maybe go to a bar to polish up my reputation by getting drunk with respectable white men and poking pale snatch. But that was for another time.
After a few hits I felt the opium working on me. It was nice to forget that I had responsibilities. I never was one for upholding the law, but I wasn’t cut out to be fortyniner. Being a sheriff seemed like a good enough way to scrape by and I made something of myself. That was until that Chinese kid showed me the dragon that took his woman away and sent Fong’s tong after him. I’ve been chasing the dragon ever since. This Daughter of Joy was riding me good. I could tell she was on the dope too.
It’s hard to hate someone when you’re put on their level. Or maybe it makes it easier.
Black hair spilled over her shoulders. Smoke and light played tragic on her face. I grabbed her bare hips and pulled them into me, her hair falling on onto my chest. Then I felt it. A thick lock of her hair coiled up and bit me on the arm. God damn dope. God damn me.
I reached for the shotgun and raised it up to the girl. The vipers were crawling around her head and shoulders, biting her face and neck. She was too doped up to feel it and so was I—almost. I pulled the trigger on a barrel and her face disappeared. I couldn’t hear shit and could see less.
A shadow played up on the rafters and I let the other barrel go. A tong highbinder fell to the floor with a basket full of snakes. Luckily, I had my boots on and I stomped on a few before grabbing my gun belt, and headed topside. Sally Sing was slumped over the counter, her throat cut. Outside, the streets were full of hatchet men fighting it out. I was
in the middle of a tong war and Fong was winning. He was making a move on my Chinatown, but he couldn’t have made it without someone on top of the hill backing his play.
I fired a few pistol shots into the crowd and made for the warehouse. I used my penknife to try and get some of the poison out, but only managed to cut my arm even more. Just then Kirby walked in.
“It’s a god damn heathen Armageddon out there, Tom.”
“No shit,” I said. “Go over to main station and get everyone that ain’t drunk to come over. We got to stop this riot.”
“Who’s this we?” Kirby asked. He smiled that nasty bleeding smile of his. “You got a mouse in your pocket? Nobody gives a damn about those chinks, except maybe you.”
Kirby pulled a derringer and fired. The bullet struck the plank behind me. I stood there, looking at him. He stared back, not knowing what to do. Then Kirby did what he did best. He talked. “They ordered me to do it, Tom! Goddamn I didn’t want to, but they made me!”
I stood up with pistol in hand. “This fucking ‘they’ have a name?”
“Augustine. Him and Fong are planning to take over Chinatown. They…”
“You mean my Chinatown.”
I pulled the trigger. I didn’t need it spelled out for me.
Cory Augustine, the man who backed my appointment and made me his errand boy of Chinatown. Now he’s sold me out to a man who wanted me dead. But why? And why kill Johnny Ruben.
I reloaded the pistol, the shotgun, and the pipe. The venom was turning my body into fire and I needed enough dope to get up the hill. There, I’ll find my answer. Since most of the action was going on in Chinatown, no one noticed the doped-up constable stumbling up the hill with a shotgun in his hand and death on his face. They were too worried about the yellow peril or whatever crap the rags like the Alta Vista were churning out. Chinatown was yellow, but the peril was on top of the hill.
Augustine had one of the biggest Victorians built on honest trade and white Christian values. I guess he wanted a bigger one. It started to make sense. Augustine was backing the Joyful Gate Blossom to take over Chinatown, cornering the vice market and making a bundle supplying the coolies for the railroad.
I made it to the top of the stairs feeling like I was on fire and floating at the same time. It was a good feeling to have before dying. Makes everything you do feel right regardless of the consequences.
Augustine sat at a large oak desk looking like a walrus mustached Judas in a room full of leather books and red velvet. Fong hovered over him while one of Augustine’s gunmen stood at the window looking at the smoke coming from Chinatown.
I stumbled in like a corpse.
Augustine looked up from his desk. “Lazarus, arisen.”
I pointed the shotgun at the gunman, the same scar-faced cunt I saw walking out of Fong’s shop. He gave me a hard look, but kept his hand away from his pistol.
I kept the barrel on the gunman and looked at Augustine.
Augustine slowly put his thumbs inside his vest coat. “Looks like Fong’s boys couldn’t kill you a second time, Tom.” Augustine looked over at Fong, who bowed his head. “But something tells me that the third times going to be a charmer.”
“Why kill me, Augustine,” I asked him. “I would have backed your play on taking over Chinatown.”
“Been a change of plans, Tom,” Augustine said. “You see, the gold is getting played out in the hills, and all the smart money is going to the railroads. Over a thousand miles of track are going to be laid down from San Francisco to New York city. White labor cost too much for the type of scale of your Mr. Stanford and the bankers back east have in mind. Hell, even the Negros are asking too much. But a Chinaman, why you can blow him up and have another hundred waiting in line.”
Augustine motioned his head over to Fong. “Of course for all of this to work out to my benefit, a monopoly in labor is what’s in order. I have found the Joyful Gate Blossom a competent partner in all my dealings in vice. Now I plan to use them to make a new start with the railroad barons.” Augustine took his thumbs out from his vest and rubbed them against his fist. “Sorry Tom, but that don’t include you.”
“What about Johnny Ruben,” I said. “Why did he have to die?”
Augustine let out a laugh. “I don’t know who this Johnny Ruben is and I don’t care. I needed you to be taken out quietly. A white dope fiend is still a white man. Double that when he wears a badge. Kill him out in the open, all violent and bloody, well things might get messy and the wrong Chinamen might get killed. But make it look like he died the way a low scum dope fiend would go, well then he might get a Christian burial. I guess your friend got in the way.”
I was pissed off. My heart was racing and I could feel the fire of the venom burning up against the dull coolness of my veins. I started to shake. The gunman looked at me hard.
“You could have cut me in,” I said. “I’m the law in Chinatown.”
“You were the law, Tom! Hell, I backed your appointment to keep the Celestials in line. Then you started chasing the dragon and sleeping with yellow whores. You became an embarrassment to your race and liability to me. ” Augustine leaned forward, his fat girth hanging like a dark cloud over Egypt. “You dug your grave, Tom. Be a man
and take what you got coming.”
“We all got it coming.”
My heart seized up and I dropped to my knees. The shotgun fell before I did.The gunman pulled out his iron and covered me. I was waiting for the bullet when Augustine stopped him.
“For Christ sake, Jimmy! Don’t kill him here. Drag him to Chinatown. We’ll have Fong chop him up and feed him to the crabs. He’s got a score to settle with Tom.”
Augustine leaned over the desk so I could see his Judas face. “I’m sure before you die, Fong will have appeased his gods for you killing his cousin.”
The gunman put his pistol away and went to grab me. The venom was burning me up. Then Fong started to laugh and then another burning feeling came over me. It was the same feeling I had when the Chinese kid escaped and the Hong Kong lawyer came to pick him up. Then I said the same thing I said back then so many years ago. Fong stopped laughing and the gunman looked at me. It was enough. I pulled for my pistol and shot point blank. My aim might be as steady as a floating shithouse, but at that range I couldn’t miss.
Augustine cursed and went for his pistol. I turned to him and emptied the revolver. I got one hit on him—right in the Adams apple. Fong made for the door and I made for the shotgun. He crossed the threshold when I pulled both barrels. The buckshot hit him and he spun around onto his back. Fong was still alive wishing he had a hit of dope to send him back to the land of his ancestors. Itook out the penknife and cut off his queue. I’m taking this so I can spot you in Hell.” I leaned over his fat yellow face of his,spitting out blood and phlegm. “Tell your cousin I said hello.”
I left, hoping it would take a long time for Fong to die.
Chinatown was in flame and smoke. The Chinese were running around trying to put out the fires while the white’s watched. I made my way to the Jade Lady and went down into the basement. It was cool and dank, but I was still on fire. I just wanted to lie down and take one more hit before I went to Hell. Something to make me forget I was
San Francisco wouldn’t forget the cocksuckers that made this city. Hell, they’ll build statues of Cory Augustine and call him a great man. They would build so many statues, the city would sink into the goddamn bay. And that’s were I’ll be. Chopped up so the crabs can pinch off my pecker and burrow in my guts, along with the rest of the
The dope hit me and I wished I had one more Daughter of Joy to send me on my way. Damn it all. It’s still Chinatown. My Chinatown.